Regular exercise can help with memory loss, cognition |

Regular exercise can help with memory loss, cognition

Judson Haims

There is little doubt that exercise has many benefits to the overall health of people at any age. However, with a global increase in the senior population, there is much research being done on physical activity and brain aging.

Age-related cognitive decline is a normal part of aging. As with any living organism, the brain has a life cycle. While most of the cells within our brains were formed during prenatal development, there is a part of the brain that is capable of producing new brain cells. Our hippocampus, the region of the brain involved in the formation and retrieval of memories, learning, and emotions, continues to create new cells as we age. This process is called neurogenesis.

Studies from the University of Edinburgh and UCLA’s School of Medicine have confirmed that exercise and increasing the oxygen levels of blood within the brain, aid greatly in promoting healthy brain tissue.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two-and-a-half-hours of moderate cardio and two days of muscle strengthening every week can greatly assist in preventing memory loss. Walking, swimming, dancing and balance classes are all exercises that make you breathe faster, increase your heart rate, and can keep you feeling and looking your best.

While exercise is a helpful in slowing memory loss, there are many other factors that contribute. One of the most frequent things affecting memory I see is medications. Although medications provide many benefits, they can also have unwelcome side effects. Too often I see that prescription drugs cause my clients issues with cognitive impairment.

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When medications are taken improperly and/or skipped, many unfavorable outcomes may occur. Memory concerns are just one such possibility. Common medications including antidepressants, antihistamines, anti-anxiety medications, muscle relaxers, tranquilizers, sleeping pills and pain medications often affect people’s cognitive capacities. If you take any of these, you should not dismiss the potential for memory and cognitive impairment as a side effect.

For people who may suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s, forgetting to take their medications is not uncommon. And often the opposite is true: They often forget whether they took their medication and thus they may take doses again. Having family or a caregiver remind them of the appropriate times to take their medication can be very helpful. Using a pill organizer or a computerized pill dispenser is another tool that can aid clients in taking their meds.

Many commonly prescribed medications often place older adults at higher risk of not only memory loss but also delirium, falls, fractures and motor skill functions. I find medications such as Ativan, Klonopin, Xanax, Ambien and Diazepam are some of the most prevalent contributors to cognitive side effects. While not appropriate for all people, you may want to consult your doctor about the possibility of trying alternatives such as melatonin, doxylamine, valerian and chamomile.

Studies suggest that S-Adenosyl methionine may help treat depression. SAMe plays a role in the immune system, maintains cell membranes and helps produce and break down brain chemicals, such as serotonin, melatonin and dopamine. Studies at the University of Maryland Medical Center and other research facilities, have shown that SAMe may also help relieving the pain of osteoarthritis and may help treat depression.

It’s important to consult a doctor if you notice the onset of sudden memory complications or unusual mood swings. Asking your doctor if there are side effects to medications they prescribe is always a good start.

There are no guarantees when it comes to preventing memory loss and dementia. However, exercise is increasingly proving to assist in brain atrophy and gray matter volume. The same practices that contribute to healthy living and physical vitality also contribute to a healthy memory.

The brain a muscle that requires nutrition, rest and exercise. Use it or lose it!

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. Contact him at or 970-328-5526.

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